While few people expect prompt changes, the beginning of Benedict XVI’s pontificate seems to be marked by renewed attempts to solve the problems between China and the Vatican and to establish diplomatic relations.
While there were diplomatic relations between 92 states and the Holy See in 1978, there has been a dramatic growth during John Paul II’s papacy: diplomatic relations now exist with 174 countries. However, there are still some missing countries, such as China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia. The new pope, Benedict XVI, has made no mystery of his desire to fill those gaps, especially regarding China.
According to the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, difficulties are not insurmountable, but care is needed for moving ahead (Associated Press, June 23). China continues to stipulate that the Holy See must sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan (where the Holy See moved its embassy in 1950) and not interfere in Chinese affairs, a difficult issue, since it would mean that the Pope should refrain from appointing bishops in China (Xinhua, July 2).
Taiwan is “closely monitoring developments” (Taipei Times, May 18), but its ambassador to the Holy See said “there is a long way to go” before the Holy See can normalize ties with China (DPA, May 25). The Vatican is the only state in Europe that maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Contacts between the Holy See and China had been broken following controversial moves in year 2000 (the ordination of five bishops in the “official Church” in Beijing and canonization of the 120 martyrs of the Church in China by the Pope), but there are indications that contacts have now resumed. Issues related to religious freedom — cases of harassment of the Vatican-faithful “underground” church continue in several places across China.
The problems surrounding the appointment of bishops also need to be solved before diplomatic ties can be established.
(Eglises d’Asie, July 1)
— By Jean-François Mayer